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7 Reasons MIT Is Special by Yuliya K. '18

reflecting on the Institute at the end of four years

Final year at MIT is done!

I don’t miss it… yet. But the realization hits all seniors at different times: seeing friends for maybe the last time, checking out of the room, walking the stage to shake hands with President Reif during Commencement, or simply walking down the street as a new adult.

For now, my life hasn’t changed. I have a summer job at MIT Admissions and commute to campus every weekday. But it’s a summer arrangement and lacks the permanent feeling of a full-time job offer. Right now, I’m visiting my family in Ohio, and it feels like always.

Except, I do miss the dorm showers—their water pressure, the speed of them heating up. It hit me while I was shivering under the frigid water in my new apartment. Not even looking at my empty dorm room with the awful splatter paint job exposed had that effect. But I was in a rush when I moved out. Plus I’d already said goodbye to friends—MIT has always been special to me because of the community, not the landmarks or even the classes. At least, that’s why I stayed at the Institute, and why I’d recommend it to other nerds (you kinda have to be a nerd here).

Now is probably the best time to reflect on whether MIT was the right fit for me, and why. And maybe it’ll help those of you considering your match with the Institute before you apply.

MIT is a unique, friendly, busy, and creative place, and I think fit is more important to thrive here than at most colleges. If you don’t fit into the nerd fests that are CPW (Campus Preview Weekend for accepted students), REX (Residence Exploration for incoming freshmen), and Freshman Orientation, then you will have a harder time adjusting—people here have to learn to work together and play together, and it makes for a one-of-a-kind wonderful and terrible time.

Here’s what made MIT special for me:

  • Residential System: choosing my living group based on cultural fit allowed me to find my best place at the Institute. And even when classes sucked (and they do at some point for everyone), I had a home and second family to return to. I was shocked how quickly MIT, and especially East Campus, became home. It’s still listed as Home in my Google Maps, and it hurts to change that. Pretty incredible to have most of your friends also be your neighbors—just imagine that!
  • Intensity: we are a work hard play hard school. One might stay up all night on Thursday to finish a problem set, and all night on Friday to finish a conversation with a peer. A rite of passage for all my friendships has been staying up to talk until 7am (helps that we live on the same hall). That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice sleep—no one can keep that up. It’s just that students here are passionate enough about what they do to work overtime to finish a cool project with hallmates (like a programmable LED dance floor!), cook with neighbors, or just nerd out over math and science.
  • Passion: people here all love something—doesn’t have to be STEM. This love could inspire something life-changing, such as building wells in an Ethiopian village, or something simple, like watching a documentary on the history of the atomic bomb on Valentine’s Day. Either way, we all have something to learn, and something to share. That’s not to say that you need to come in a rocket scientist, not at all. But you will discover something exciting during your time at MIT—through classes, UROPs, rockstar professors, and peers. I never imagined studying social science and political philosophy, and certainly not neuroscience and women’s and gender studies. But I was inspired by the people here. What makes MIT the best in the world is the passion that drives everything faculty, staff, and students do.
  • Nerdiness: the description for this one is the same as passion, but I had to include it separately as a fun “warning.” You will find people nerding out about all sorts of topics. It starts at CPW when you’re just a prefrosh—with liquid nitrogen ice cream and midnight math lectures. And it continues all the way through senior year—I haven’t had a single long conversation here without at some point nerding out over math, science, engineering, humanities, or social sciences. People have such diverse interests, and I didn’t want to miss out on learning from them. I love it—would you?
  • Unconventional Creativity: where else would you find students creating wooden rollercoasters and slides, haunted houses, augmented reality murals, adaptive evices, automatic boba machines, all in their free time? It’s freaking awesome! But besides that, MIT is unconventional in the little things—lack of final exams for many, if not most, classes, Independent Activities Period, General Institute Requirements, pirate certificate, clothing-optional dorm floors, dorm ball pits, and so much more. This place is built to empower exploration and creativity. And, as you know, with such great power comes great responsibility, too—exploration takes a lot of work.
  • Collaboration: during my first visit, I was told that some problem sets are purposefully harder so that people are pretty much forced to work together. This might not work for everyone, and you can certainly turn to TAs and professors instead of peers, but teamwork is still deeply embedded in the spirit of the place. I don’t work well with others academically, but I still love the collaborative atmosphere. It’s why we have no honors college or even honors classes, no grade de- or inflation, and no summa cum laude or valedictorian distinctions. It’s why I’ve called at least half of my professors by their first names, and why I can easily approach them to ask about their research, or even join their research teams, even if I haven’t taken one of their classes. It’s both the little things and the overarching policies that make MIT competitive with other colleges, but never within itself.
  • Difficulties and Stress: I can’t not mention this one. Even if you are taking a light load, MIT feels stressful. There is an atmosphere of intensity and a pressure to be busy. It’s another unique thing about MIT, and we can’t ignore it. The seniors here come out jaded and tired—on the bright side, after this place, even working at intense places like Google or Apple, or attending medical or law school, feels easy. That’s why for most of us, IHTFP is a paradoxical mix of “I have truly found paradise” and “I hate this fucking place.” But, in retrospect, I think most of us miss it at some point. I know I will soon.